The Value of Information Architecture and Content Modeling
There's no denying that content holds value.
Content-driven businesses thrive by giving their readers, viewers or listeners the content they want and need, and in return businesses earn revenue, whether it's through ads, subscription models or other means.
But how do you ensure you can get your readers, viewers or listeners the content they want in the right format? In other words, how can you maximize the value of your content?
The answer lies in information architecture and content modeling. Being able to beautifully display content to a user in a variety of contexts and on a multitude of devices.
Not Sexy or Shiny
"One of the things that I love most about content strategy and information architecture in particular is that it has longevity," says Karen McGrane, user experience and content strategy expert for the web and mobile. In an recent interview, she quotes Jason Scott, saying that "Metadata is a love note from the future."
But why is semantic metadata so important when it comes to content modeling?
Karen explains: "I've seen that pay off for organizations so many times. The investment in structured content, in taxonomy, in semantic metadata - those things are not sexy and they're not shiny. I think it's sometimes hard for organizations to articulate why they should put the work into doing that. But it pays off in the long run, it really does. You continue getting value from that content in ways that you would not have if you didn't have that metadata in place, if you didn't have that structure in place."
Understanding Content Modeling
Let's dive into an example. Say you are rolling out a cooking website that delivers unique recipes to its visitors. Your first inclination might be to just throw the entire recipe onto a page and be done with it.
A better way to tackle this is by defining the attributes (known as field types) of the overall recipe. Each recipe may consist of several field types, such as name (text line), ingredients (content relation), cooking time (time), image (jpeg), description (formatted text), and video (mp4).
By splitting up the content type into its individual attributes you've given it greater flexibility and made it more reusable.
Take the ingredients field type for example. We could have easily used a text field in the actual recipe. But this would remove the meta information that establishes the relationships between ingredients and recipes. These relationships can be used to show other recipes with the same ingredients. It can be used for navigation or to create collections of recipes by ingredients. The possibilities are endless. By just splitting up this piece of content into its most basic form we have opened up a wide range of possibilities.
Peter Keung, managing director for the CMS implementation team Mugo Web, reiterates the importance of establishing a clear separation: "eZ Publish's separation of content from design was forward-thinking 15 years ago, and it's really coming to fruition nowadays, especially where multi-channel is key. You need to strike a good balance between splitting your data out into discrete fields and giving editors some freeform flexibility to manage the structure of the content and presentation."
Omni-channel Content Repository
At eZ, our content is stored in a fully channel-neutral manner. This means that channel-specific information, like HTML formatting for the internet, isn't stored in the repository. Because of this, you can easily reuse your content in any channel, such as the web, on mobile, in apps or in print.
Keung provides his take on what to look for in a CMS when it comes to content modeling: "Make sure that your CMS stores the presentation data and the content itself separately. For example, make sure your CMS doesn't save your content as pure HTML. People have caught on to the fact that they're not just producing content for a single website on a desktop screen anymore. But designing for mobile and tablet views, while certainly not a simple challenge, is not the end of the story either. Think about interactive kiosk experiences, syndication channels, instructions for your kitchen appliances - your CMS might power much more than just your websites."
Why is it important to store your content in a channel-neutral manner?
Karen McGrane points to the changing landscape of technology. "Now with mobile phones, and tablets, and smart TVs, and watches, and Google Glass, and God knows what else is going to come next, the idea that we have to have new production processes that allow us to create content separate from form, or that allow us to encode the meaning of what we want to communicate in a way that isn't completely dependent on visual styling… [Content] isn't completely dependent on layout, or sizing, or styling cues derived from print - that's sort of a mind-bending thing for human beings to have to wrap their heads around. That basically up until this point of human history, we never had to think about that and now that's our biggest problem."
When content modeling is done right it creates vast opportunities for content reuse across channels. Apps to browse recipes by ingredients, cooking time or other filters can be developed. Exporting a bundle of recipes into an InDesign template becomes easily achievable.
Channel-neutral content gives you the advantage to create once and publish anywhere. Correct content modeling practices, where content is separated from design, can make all the difference in the world as technology progresses.
It's going to be a challenge to implement these practices organization wide. It requires extra work from many individuals, mainly editors and IT. "Nobody wants structured content, nobody wants taxonomy. No one wants those things for their own sake," says Karen McGrane. "It's up to us to figure out how we demonstrate the value of our work, how do you tie the investment in structured content to the goals of the organization; that they want personalization, that they want reduced translation cost, that they want true multi-platform publishing."
Of course, influencing executives and peers will take time, and a clear strategy. Karen shares how she's influenced change in the past. "I've said many times that, for me, mobile is a Trojan horse. I could never walk into the CEO's office and talk about structured content. I could, but it's not as good of a sell as it is to go in there and talk about mobile, because that's what they care about."
Executives see the numbers on mobile and understand the platform is growing, so it is smart to use that knowledge to your advantage.
"If I go in and say, 'You want to succeed on mobile? You have to do this.' That's a way stronger sell than just saying, 'But structured content and taxonomy is a wonderful thing for you to have!'"